Following my 220km run across Cambodia to raise fund for The Fred Hollows Foundation I had the privilege to visit, together with an Australian supporter, the actual sight restoring work of The Fred Hollows Foundation.
We were a bit overwhelmed by the reception at the Siem Reap Eye Hospital, which was funded with the help of Australian supporters and opened in 2011. All staff was outside welcoming us! And look at that banner!
Before we were able to see the work done in the hospital, the media and TV wanted to know more about my run across the country and the reasons of our fundraising.
Once the official part was done we were finally able to meet some of the patients waiting for their surgery. The patients arrive with a relative or friend guiding them to the hospital were they get assessed immediately by one of the two residing ophthalmologists.
At the same time the other eye doctor is already doing surgery to restore sight.
Usually these patients only have to stay one night in hospital after surgery. A common, very basic room with beds is provided and the family will have to look after them in regards of food. Under normal circumstances the hospital is trying to get these patients back for a check-up within the first two – three weeks but often, financial difficulties means that the poor people are unable to afford twice the trip into the city.
It was fascinating to watch Dr Kong Sunly doing the surgery on these patients – we could watch on a big screen in the operation theatre what was going on and had everything explained to us. Two magic hands, a few fine, sharp and special instruments, a plastic lens and within 8-10 minutes it was all done – the blinding cataract was removed and a clear plastic lens inserted which will provide perfect vision for the rest of the patients life.
The next day we came back to meet some of the patients we saw yesterday.
Most inspiring however, was to see the same Dr Kong Sunly, up bright and early, sweeping the hospital front yard of all the leaves to make the place neat and clean for another day. This is a man who could be working in a big city in a Western hospital making lot’s of money but he is here sweeping the grounds of the eye hospital and going back up again restoring sight to poor people who have no money to pay for his services – Fred Hollows would be very proud to see his legacy continued in this way.
We met up with on of the patients form yesterday, this man had his second eye operated on and he was very happy to final be able to see fully again and go back to work and support his family.
Wonderful moment when we were able to remove some of the patches from patients and see their face changing within seconds or minutes, realising that sight was back and they could see again! Some of those people were blind for years and could not wait to go back and see their families and friends.
After a quick eye test and with some eye drops in their pockets, they left on their own, with a new spring in their steps, on foot or cycle going back home – as new person.
In the afternoon we travelled to the country side and caught up with a few former patients – all living a full and normal life as farmers again – supporting their family, working on the fields and being part of the community. It was also quite obvious to see the relieved and happy faces of their families with this big burden lifted off their shoulder.
We learned that often mis-information or wrong believes keeps many blind people to come to the hospital and this only changes once one person from the village has returned after a successful operation. Money of course is also an issue in a country were people live on $2 a day, often the costs of transport to the hospital is out of reach for many of these people
On the way back to Phnom Penh we stopped along the way to visit one of the mobile eye camps The Foundation is running all over Cambodia to reach all these people living too remotely or too far away from a hospital.
Dr Kak Kakada was a miracle worker on his own, apparently having restored sight to over 25,000 people in Cambodia. Trained by Fred Hollows friend, Dr Ruit in Nepal, it was mind-blowing to watch him operating, one patient after the other without interruption, still talking to us and explaining the procedure.
We checked our watches and within an hour Dr Kakada restored sight to 8 patients (every 7 minute a blind person had their sight restored!), with the last one being lucky as the lens was inserted the electricity in the small, make-shift hospital just stopped, so we were all ‘forced’ to go for lunch.
One big challenge for a country like Cambodia is man-power, this country of 15 million people needs more eye doctors and nurses and more dedicated people like Dr Kakada to help restore sight to the over 60,000 reminding needlessly blind Cambodian and build a sustainable eye health system like we enjoy in Australia, so still some work to be done.
Running thousands of km in training and racing across Cambodia, suffering from blisters and the heat; chasing friends and families for money for Fred; planning the next fundraising event – it was and is all worth it – seeing first hand that a few dollars can change peoples lives in ways only few of us can imagine!
Thank you all for your support over the years and hopefully into the future, as I will continue to Run 4 Vision